I awoke this morning to the sounds of children shouting. It took me a good few seconds to conclude two things: it’s been a long time since I’ve actually heard the sounds of children playing outside (another post for another time), and oh yeah, it’s the first day of school.
Perhaps it’s my own denial that fall is upon us that has got me scratching my head as to how it’s already September and time for a new school year. Nevertheless, it’s here and although this is my second year not returning as a full-time teacher, I, too, must pry myself away from the lazy days of summer and get back into a regular routine.
As I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed and see all the posts about going back to school, I am filled with such a mix of emotions, I practically feel as if I’m reliving some of those first days of school.
Out of all the first days I’ve had as a student and as a teacher, the one that always stands out the most clearly is my first day of university in 2006.
I remember being too anxious to eat breakfast, crying as I sat in my academic advisor’s office trying to find out how to get into a class I couldn’t register for, feeling intimidated by all the people who had obviously signed up for all the same classes as their best friends, wishing I was back in my high school where I didn’t feel invisible and alone. I remember going back to a house that didn’t feel like home and going to bed at a ridiculously early hour because I just needed the day to be over.
And what I remember after that is that many of those feelings never truly went away during my five years I spent in university.
Every morning I awoke to a stomach full of butterflies (not the good kind.) Every paper I wrote, exam I took, performance I gave, all gave me such anxiety I couldn’t possibly count the number of times I said I would get through that semester and then that was it. I couldn’t do it anymore.
But I did do it, and it has shaped me in so many ways that I know now were necessary.
(Here’s a selfie I took during my first month in school. I laugh at it now, much like I laugh and cringe at all photos of myself pre- 2011, but I remember exactly how I was feeling at this time and, well, it looked like this.)
The following are five things that if I could, I would tell myself at this time eight years ago.
1. Your university years won’t be the best years of your life and that’s okay.
I remember being discouraged that I disliked university so much. There is such a common belief that these years are supposed to contain the best memories of your life, and I felt like I was failing because I just wanted to survive.
Every school day I prayed to just get through whatever I had to do that day and that I wouldn’t have a reason to run to the bathroom and cry. The other kids I saw in school seemed to thrive in the fishbowl that made me feel debilitated with fear. I wasted a lot of time feeling insecure and comparing myself to other people who were nothing like me, who were driven to excel in a program that I never really felt like I belonged in.
I would tell scared little 17-year-old me that not everyone fits into the student lifestyle, that there are so many other ways to be fulfilled and successful in life than to be a big fish in a little bowl and that it gets better.
2. You will not end up living on the street in a cardboard box.
Despite the fact that financially my life doesn’t look like I dreamed it would at the age of almost-26, I have never gone without. Although I have resolved to play an active role in making my own career which means some financial sacrifice, I have always been provided for. The gigantic fear that I would never get a job after graduating was one that ate up a lot of unnecessary time I could have spent doing cool things like running marathons and writing poetry.
Just kidding, I still don’t do those things.
But I also don’t fear the Real World anymore.
3. Friendships sometimes have seasons.
Friends will come and go. University brought many friendships into my life that I believe existed during a time when I really needed them. There are people that I may not keep in touch with anymore, but they helped me get through a lot of tough times. People who encouraged me, gave me moments where I could forget about how miserable school was, made me laugh and gave me many good memories that bring me relief because they remind me it wasn’t all bad.
Life happens and I don’t think we’re meant to hold onto every friendship that develops in our lifetime, but I have a deep appreciation for the friends that stood with me during those tough years.
4. Experience is the best teacher.
Classes will not prepare you for what comes when you enter into the working world. What has helped me know myself and find fulfillment has been the experiences I went through as a result of pushing through something really hard. I have learned how to be a little kinder to myself when I fail, learned how to appreciate what makes me different. If university had felt easy to me, I think there are a lot of important lessons I would have either missed completely or been forced to learn later in my life.
I’m thankful I already know what I know now.
5. It doesn’t really matter.
I remember at one time saying out loud I probably wouldn’t sing again when I finished my music degree. That school had taken the joy out of singing, and I would never feel good enough to actually sing in public again.
Given the events of the past couple years, I know this to not be true. But at one time it felt true. So I would want myself to know that music will continue to fulfill me and bring me joy. You can’t take something so subjective as music and give it a grade. That bad mark I got on that singing jury in 2008? It has zero effect on my life today. It doesn’t really matter.
I guess I’d like to summarize with this:
This too shall pass.
All the good, all the bad, all the in-between, it will only happen once. Those experiences never have to be repeated. I am so much happier and braver and so much more okay with myself since finishing school, and while I pray that those entering university for the first time find themselves thriving, I hope they know it’s okay if they don’t.
Take the good with the bad, find people who love you and will help get you through the hard stuff, and be kind to yourself.
It’s not all bad. It gets better. This too shall pass.